Cog vs Clog: How to Build A Healthy Company Culture
Every organization is made up of and sustained by a group of interdependent individuals and teams. As boring and unromantic it may sound, the truth is most of us are usually just a cog in a big, complex machine.
So, for a moment let’s accept that we are all cogs. Once we are past the terminology (and get real with life), we can come to the meat of today’s topic.
Alright, are we cool? Now, assuming we are cogs, then the question is what IS our true role and purpose? What is the expectation from an individual contributor and a self-organizing team?
Hello! What’s the status / The Naked Soul
Cog vs. Clog
A cog (member) helps continue or transfer the motion by positively engaging with another cog (member).
A clog (member) on the other hand sucks the energy from the rest of the system without providing any real value. Worst yet, they block any positive movement and become a hidden impediment to the long-term success of the team or an organization.
Why Bureaucracy is a Bad Idea
A good rule of thumb is ‘less is more’. A simpler system, a simpler administration, a simpler rule, and regulation is always better than a complex one.
Every complex system runs the risk of accumulating some clogs over time (due to hidden and asymmetric risk and rewards that gets built into the system over time).
Mostly, this is due to the apathy of team members and over-complexity. And, bureaucracies are inherently complex systems.
The Long Term Cost & Damage
Most of the time, by the time clogs are identified and removed, much of the damage is already done. It is therefore critical to employ “prevention is better than cure” approach in cogs vs clogs dynamics.
No matter where the clogs are (anywhere from the C-suite to the most junior individual contributor), they will continue to impact the rest of the cogs. With time, the damage accumulates in terms of cost, loss of individual morale and team spirit.
It is important to realize that any large and complex system will develop some clogs over time. It is in the nature of complexity. In other words, you can think of it like this:
If something (a solution, new regulation, new process) is too complex to implement, it means, it already has a lot of built-in clogs. You may first want to do a precision surgery to shake out and identify the clogs. Once the clogs are identified, you may want to simplify the solution by removing all of the clogs from the rest of the otherwise healthy system.
Teamwork is about leveraging everyone’s strength / The Naked Soul
Clogs are the Organizational Fat
Clogs can be found at any level in an organization (large or small). Whether it is your lowest level cog or a C-level executive, a clog if left untreated can potentially choke the growth of the company at any level.
That said, unfortunately, there is one area in any organization that is notorious for harboring the maximum amount of clogs. Take a guess before you proceed.
My guess is that your guess will be likely correct because let’s face it, there is nothing new under the sun.
Okay, before we jump into non-producing employees, let’s first take a step back and think about what do we mean by “producing” vs. “non-producing”?
A producing employee (a functioning cog) is someone who is consistently bringing value to the team and the organization. Ideally, on a daily basis. The project or work won’t move forward without this cog.
A non-producing employee (oftentimes a clog in the system) is someone who is not producing anything directly but is only responsible for filling in the voids or generating reports on other people’s work. Without these non-producing, the work can still successfully carry on and someone above or below this person can easily absorb her or his role and responsibility.
Now, please keep in mind, a non-producing employee can do more than just reporting or filling in the void. They can also work as a grease, an organizer or team motivator or problem solver or may even step up as a passionate team-player.
In such cases though, these folks, (irrespective of their primary roles) are not only bringing in value but they are beneficial to the entire team.
Where are the Clogs?
Question: Okay, so where are most of the clogs in any average/typical organization?
Answer: Mid-level Managers.
Did you guess it correctly? If so, please let me know in the comments. If your answer is different from mine, please let me know that as well in the comments.
Hard Facts and Easy Choices
It is a hard fact that it is very rare to find a good and effective manager. And, truth be told, it is far easier to hire a narcissist and dysfunctional manager (because they are good at roleplaying) than to groom and promote your own employees into managerial roles.
But there is a way to weed out these notorious clogs. Most ineffective and bad managers lack empathy and accountability. The term “bad boss” is used for a boss who fails to protect her or his team and uses fear tactics to get the work instead of investing real emotional energy into the team or the product.
Understand, many mid-level managers are people who are skilled enough to get to the management positions but rigid or broken enough to not realize that they have become a clog in the system. They focus their time and energy in playing petty office politics with the sole intention of protecting their jobs. The team, the product, the organization doesn’t even fall in their priority list.
Building a great team is like solving a puzzle
What Should Leadership Do?
In case of having to decide between a non-producing, status-reporting middle-managers vs. not having anyone at all, it is better to go with the latter choice. The company and team’s productive and ROI is always greater when there are no clogs in people’s tracks than having an extra helping hand.
The absence of negativity is much more beneficial and powerful than having one extra person on the team. So, when in doubt, it is better to remember and practice the wisdom of “less is more.”
Beware of those who just trade their 40 hours with constant noise and ho-hum for a steady paycheck. This particular category of non-producing cogs soon turns into the stickiest clogs causing severe blockages.
Clogs are not only harmful to the company culture in the most direct sense but they are also responsible for turning the rest of the cogs around them less-productive, less-motivated, and less-engaged. Which leads to workplace politics.
Remember, it takes time to play office politics. And you don’t want either your time or money spent on any of that. Nor do you want your resources doing the same.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!